Breakthrough Listen Initiative starts sharing "search for ET" data

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The Green Bank radio telescope is being used in the project(Credit: NRAO)

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The first batch of data from a US$100 million effort to find signs of intelligent life beyond Earth has been released for public access. The Breakthrough Listen Initiative began making observations in January using the Green Bank Radio Telescope in West Virginia and Lick Observatory's Automated Planet Finder in California, and has posted what it's gathered so far on its website.

We covered the project's ambitions when it was first launched in July with the support of entrepreneur Yuri Milner and famed cosmologist Stephen Hawking.

So far, observations have been made of most of the stars closest to Earth like 51 Pegasi, a sun-like star orbited by a so-called "hot jupiter" planet, and others between 16 and 160 light years away. For some perspective, the nearest star to Earth is Alpha Centauri at 4 light years distant and Milner and Hawking announced a separate "Breakthrough Starshot" project to send a tiny spacecraft there in our lifetimes earlier this week.

The search has also so far targeted giant and binary star systems like those that held the fictional Tatooine in their grasp, as well as the nearest spiral galaxies.

"Breakthrough Listen is a leap forward in our ability to systematically scan the skies for evidence of advanced life beyond Earth," said Andrew Siemion, Director of Berkeley SETI Research Center. "As our processing capabilities continue to grow in the coming months, and we release additional data, the opportunity for discovery will multiply enormously."

Breakthrough Listen plans to run for a 10-year period using a network of powerful radio and optical telescopes around the world. It claims to be able to collect more data in a day than previously had been collected in a year, with 50 times more sensitive search capacity over 10 times more of the sky, and five times more of the radio spectrum.

The raw data from the observations is available for the public and experts in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) to parse through and analyze at breakthroughinitiatives.org, where it is indexed by date, object name and other means.

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